Interior designer, ceramicist and artist Gavin Houghton's creative life in Tangier and London

Gavin Houghton’s latest creative endeavour – organising sketching holidays in Morocco – allows the multi-talented interior designer to introduce others to the bohemian pleasures of the city that he fell in love with over 20 years ago

His own house in Stockwell is typical of his style, blending Classical elements with witty flourishes. Art lines the dusky green walls of the sitting room – from sketches by Bloomsbury group artist Duncan Grant to pieces by friends, including painter and ceramicist Michaela Gall. ‘My taste in art is mainly decorative. I like painterly, sketchy works.’

The colour green runs through many of Gavin’s homes and La Di Dar, the four-bedroom house in Tangier he bought in 2012, is no exception, with its green and white tiled terrace. Gavin first visited the city over 20 years ago. ‘I’d always been intrigued by the fact that it attracted this rather bohemian crowd,’ he recalls. His first trip sparked a life-long love affair and he started visiting annually.

Offering panoramic views of the city and the Atlantic coast, the rooftop at La Di Dar is the perfect setting for an evening drinks party with guests.

Dean Hearne

On one such visit, having asked an estate agent friend to show him some properties – ‘for a bit of fun’ – he ended up at the house he now owns. ‘It couldn’t have been more ugly, but it was incredibly good value and I could see the potential,’ he says. Situated next to the Kasbah, it is reached via an unassuming alleyway and spreads across four levels, including a rooftop terrace that looks out over the Atlantic.

He set to work almost straight away, replacing brown plastic doors with metal Crittall versions and turning an awkward L-shaped salon into a red and white striped visual feast. About five years ago, he added to the third floor, creating an extra bedroom, a painting studio and a terrace. ‘It’s allowed me to think outside the box,’ he says.

A watercolour of the striking red and white fireplace in Gavin’s sitting room, painted by Joan.

Dean Hearne

Another thing that has given Gavin a lot of pleasure in Tangier is sketching: ‘I contemplated becoming a serious oil painter, but was never pleased with what I produced and I enjoyed the simple, quick lines of watercolour and pencil.’ The idea for the sketching holidays, which he has recently started with Joan, grew out of this realisation. ‘There is nothing nicer than spending time in a place and sketching what you see,’ he says. Participants spend five days with Joan and Gavin, out and about in Tangier as well as at La Di Dar. Lunch is provided daily at La Di Dar, as is what Gavin describes as an evening drinks ‘crit’ session on the roof.

‘The idea is that it is a holiday rather than an academic course,’ explains Joan, who met Gavin over 30 years ago when they worked together at The World of Interiors. Until last year, she had been at the magazine on and off since 1985, spending the past 19 years as promotions art director. Now, she is focusing on drawing, working with embroiderers in her native Kenya to create her sketches in stitch, as well as selling her paintings. For the sketching holidays, the pair are on hand to offer guidance, but it is a chance for people to experiment: ‘There’s a reason children’s drawings are so appealing. We want to encourage people to free up a bit.’

Gavin's flower-adorned ‘Vanessa’ plate – named after Vanessa Bell – is displayed in front of his yellow and blue ‘Sunshine Faun’ bowl.

Dean Hearne

For Gavin, his love of drawing feeds into another of his creative pursuits – ceramics. He enrolled on an evening course in Lewisham shortly before lockdown and learned the art of slab building. ‘I wanted to make a set of decorative plates and this seemed like a good way to go about it,’ he recalls. Then lockdown put a stop to the classes. But, with a stroke of luck, Gavin ended up inheriting a kiln from a friend and carved out space in his studio – a red shed at the back of his London garden – to make ceramics.

‘I spent the summer of 2020 on a mad rampage making plates,’ he says. ‘It’s just a bit of fun really.’ He is being modest, as his charming – often cheekily decorated – plates and vases have been selling like hotcakes, attracting commissions from the likes of Charleston. He has created a collection of plates to complement the exhibition Very Private?, which opens at the East Sussex house that was once home to the Bloomsbury group in September.

The shed is now both his design and ceramics studio. ‘London is for ceramics and interior design, and Tangier is my painting time,’ says Gavin. Some may ponder how he juggles it all, but he does so with joy and infectious energy. ‘I never get bored and that’s all that really matters’.

Gavin Houghton: | Joan Hecktermann: |